Kelly Bishop and her man-go in search of Caribbean vibes in Chorlton
Chorlton has plenty of good vibes but you’d have to squint really hard (or perhaps take full advantage of Island Vibe’s weekend-long BOGOF happy ‘hour’) to draw any parallels with a Caribbean island.
If it were possible to install this on tap in my house, I probably would
Always on island time myself, I arrived to find my dining partner relaxing on the terrace enjoying a pint of Portland Ale and the last few rays of evening sun as he gazed wistfully at the twinkling, azure blue… cars whizzing down Wilbraham Road.
Inside it's reminiscent of a chilled-out beach bar with colourful, mis-matched furniture, a graffitied wall mural and tropical paper birds attached to cage-like lampshades.
I waste no time getting stuck into the cocktails, the staff happy to split the two-for-one offer as long as I ordered them both at the same time. My first, ‘Thyme To Relax’ (£8) was listed with no other information than it contained gin. It sounded like the kind of earthy, botanical drink I love, so I was surprised when it arrived hibiscus pink with a foamy top and no discernible thyme.
It tasted like sour candy.
Later, a dark 'n stormy (£8.50) was fine but I wouldn’t rush to pay full price for these.
The menu suggests an upmarket take on Caribbean food featuring restauranty versions of homestyle dishes with ingredients like rice ’n peas, jerk chicken and salt cod as well as a handful of less familiar offerings.
The intriguing jerk chicken terrine is served with something called ‘old hard doug’, which sounds like a local neighbour that you wouldn’t mess with. Perhaps it should say ‘dough’? Still, that’s one of a number of things I don’t prefer old and hard. So we ruled that one out.
A trio of spiced, fried Trinidadian dough balls, Trini pholourie (£6.25/£11.50), had more appeal and came prettily presented with sweet mango chutney and tamarind scented yoghurt. They weren’t worth a postcard home though and were almost indistinguishable from the salt-fish fritters (£6.25) which only had a bit more about them. Having recently enjoyed a tennis ball sized competitor packed with fish for a cheaper price in a more unassuming Caribbean joint, we felt a bit short-changed.
A pineapple salsa was a pleasant accompaniment and both starters were served with a fresh and colourful salad but duo of glistening prawn skewers (£8.25) winked at us from another table. Maybe next time.
My partner-in-plantain had ordered the house speciality: grilled jerk chicken ballantine (£14.95) but had to wait in vain as our waitress returned with the bombshell that it had sold out.
This being early evening in a restaurant that has not been open very long, we put it down to either poor organisational skills (hopefully being ironed out) or the dish being so outrageously good that they couldn’t keep up with demand.
A jerk chicken burger (£13.75) - also available in beef or lamb - was the closest replacement he could find. Given the option of mild, hot or extra hot marinade, he went straight down the middle and said he would level up next time although a good range of bottled hot sauces were on offer to pep things up a bit. Presented in the customary brioche bun thickly spread with tamarind chutney, it came with some whopping sweet potato wedges and purple coleslaw.
Lamb chops three ways (£17) was more like three lamb chops all cooked the same way: on a grill. Any nuances were too subtle to detect. Cooked juicy and pink, but on the fatty side, a bed of lego green and crisp shredded runner beans was spot on.
Caramelised plantain chunks provided the sweetness required to cut through that fattiness. A little pot of ‘drip’, a rich, meaty gravy was hastily rushed out shortly after we had started eating. As soon as I tasted it, the delay was forgiven. If it were possible to install this on tap in my house, I probably would.
Frankly, why has such a device for spontaneous gravy consumption not been invented yet?
We didn’t really need our side dish of macaroni cheese (£3.50) but had no problem polishing it off. People try too hard with mac n cheese these days, this had that simple, nursery-food comfort that only condensed milk provides. Old school and just right.
A spiced mango tarte tatin (£7.95) to finish was buttery, rich and decadent. Served with rum chantilly cream reminiscent of my favourite part of Xmas dinner. A slightly soggy bottom didn’t bother me as I wolfed it down in about three greedy mouthfuls.
Island Vibe hasn’t been open long and while there is a lot to sing about, a few tweaks are needed here and there to justify its slightly higher than average prices. Yes, this is Chorlton, but it’s a competitive market.
The staff are still finding their feet but were warm and accommodating.
The vibe is there, it will be interesting to see how things progress.
Island Vibe, 414-416 Wilbraham Rd, Chorlton, Manchester M21 0SD
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Trini pholouri 5, fritters 5.5, lamb chops 6.5, burger 7, mac n cheese 7, mango tarte tatin 8
Friendly but still finding their feet
Brightly coloured with a relaxed vibe and good tunes